Senior officials from around the world gather Tuesday for a U.N.-sponsored one-day conference on Afghanistan. The meeting was called for by the United States and will bring partners and rivals to the table, including Iran.
The daily dose of news out of Afghanistan is not good -- another bombing, a renewed Taliban insurgency, crime, opium production, poverty and warnings from experts the war could drag on without clear results.
The war has now gone on for more than seven years, with about 70,000 foreign troops in the country, most from the United States. And, President Barack Obama has announced he is sending 4,000 more troops to help train the Afghan armed forces. That's in addition to the 17,000 troops the president wants to deploy in the coming months.
Included in the foreign military presence on the ground are nearly 60,000 troops that are part of a U.N.-mandated NATO contingent.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai, has just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, where he accompanied senior NATO officials. "Our assessment is basically this - in the North and West of the country, things are basically stable or getting better; in the East in many ways they are getting better as well even though there's a lot more fighting; in the South it's not getting better, it's a stalemate," he said.
Appathurai says insurgent activity in Kabul itself is down. But, acknowledges concerns about lack of security are valid and often due to criminal activity, not the Taliban.
Security analyst Dana Allin of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, says NATO's achievements in Afghanistan are mixed at best. "I don't think anybody really appreciated the dimensions of the Afghanistan mission, the inherent difficulty of trying to fight a counter-insurgency against an insurgency that has pretty much free sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan," said Allin.
The cross-border dimension of the conflict has led the new administration in Washington to push for a broader, regional approach.
In announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Friday, President Obama said Taliban and Al-Qaida leadership are planning attacks on the U.S. and other nations from the mountainous border region. He said and they pose threats to both South Asian nations. "For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world. But, this is not simply an American problem, far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order," he said.
Analyst Allin says that approach is good, but not necessarily a magic formula. "The most difficult problem is undoubtedly Pakistan. There is sanctuary in Pakistan /// that is believed to be where most of the high value al Qaida terrorist leaders are based. And, it is certainly a sanctuary for Taliban fighters to come back," Allin said.
And says Allin, a regional strategy might involve unpleasant trade-offs "deciding that for example, you don't want to do anything that destabilizes Pakistan even though that seems necessary for winning in Afghanistan."
How to proceed in Afghanistan, how to adapt strategies, how to increase support? --those are among the issues on the table for the Afghan meeting in The Hague. And at the table will be the US, its allies and rival, Iran.
Analysts say that while Washington and Tehran are mostly at odds -- Afghanistan is one area where they could more easily find common ground.